Shepherd's Needle (Scandix pecten-veneris) - Species Action Plan

Ref 2/S16 Species Action Plan 16
Plan Author: Norfolk County Council
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: Natural England
Final 18 June 2007

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • Shepherd's needle is a species of arable land and waste places. It favours heavy calcareous clay soils which are dry in summer and is also known to occur on disturbed coastal sites, perhaps indicating its original niche prior to its expansion into arable habitats. It is an annual species which mainly germinates between October and early November, with a smaller second flush in the spring. It has a very low level of seed dormancy which renders it particularly vulnerable to periods of inappropriate management.
  • Shepherd's needle was once widespread, being recorded from sites scattered throughout the UK. However, it has been declining severely for over 50 years and is now almost entirely restricted to southern and eastern England. It remains frequent in a small area of Suffolk, and where it does occur, it can be in very dense stands. The European distribution of shepherd's needle is centred mainly on the Mediterranean, extending westwards to the UK and northwards to Denmark. It has declined considerably throughout north-western and eastern Europe.
  • In Great Britain, this species is classified as Nationally Scarce. It receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Norfolk Status

  • Shepherd's needle occurs in approximately 30 tetrads in Norfolk, mainly to the south of the county where the soil is heavier. It became very rare in the mid-1980s but has recovered since 2000. Seed may be carried on the fleeces of mobile sheep flocks.
  • In common with a suite of other arable plants, shepherd's needle is now largely restricted to the clay plateau. However, unlike the majority of these species (which favour sugar beet), shepherd's needle is most often found on the margins of winter cereals.
  • Although it has declined alarmingly in recent years, shepherd's needle is reasonably widespread in the county. Indeed, after Suffolk, Norfolk holds the largest population of this species in the UK.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Susceptible to many broad-spectrum herbicides.
  • Liable to suffer from earlier autumn ploughing.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • The Norfolk Flora Group check records for this species.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • Maintain current range of natural populations within 166 10km squares in the UK.
  • Achieve a two-fold increase in the area of habitat suitable for the natural colonisation of the species by 2010 in priority areas.


  • Maintain the current range of natural populations in Norfolk (approximately 30 tetrads).
  • Ensure that populations remain viable at all current sites.
  • Provide opportunities for the spread of shepherd's needle from extant sites.

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